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Turning Over a New Leaf: Pennsylvania's Move Toward Legalizing Cannabis

A duo of cross-party Pennsylvania senators declared that they're about to present a bill for the legalization of cannabis in the Commonwealth.

Senators Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D), a past duo on cannabis reform initiatives, provided some insights into the upcoming proposal. The planned bill aims to establish a commercial cannabis market for adults aged 21 and above. They shared these details in a memo seeking co-sponsorship from their peers as they get ready to table the bill.

“Endorsing the legal use of cannabis for adults is a stance shared by an overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians. Our proposed legislation accomplishes this goal while ensuring safety and social equity,” commented Laughlin in a press statement.

He also pointed out, “Considering our neighbors, New Jersey and New York, have already initiated adult-use, it's our duty to Pennsylvania taxpayers to sanction the legal use of cannabis. This way, we prevent losing hundreds of millions of dollars in potential tax revenue and the creation of thousands of new jobs.”

Although the official bill has not yet been submitted and its text isn't accessible, the senators indicated that it would “enhance our proposal from the last session.” They characterized their initiative as a “cross-party approach to sanction adult-use cannabis in Pennsylvania.”

Daw Fidler, Laughlin's legislative director, confirmed via email that the bill is “currently under development,” and their offices “are still navigating through some alterations and updates based on” the legalization measure they submitted in the previous session.

They plan to introduce the bill in June—likely towards its end. “Following its introduction and referral to the committee, we'll collaborate with the committee and interested parties on any further items that need addressing before a committee vote when they reconvene in the fall.”

The press release from the senators affirms the forthcoming legislation would prioritize public safety, endowing law enforcement with the means to “address” impaired driving and equip them to “eliminate” the underground market.

Moreover, the bill would grant medical cannabis patients the right to cultivate their own plants, restrict advertising aimed at youngsters, and “establish workplace stipulations regarding cannabis use for all those acting in good faith.”

The bill also incorporates social equity provisions to facilitate the expungement of past cannabis convictions and to give priority licensing to those most impacted by the war on drugs. The senators noted that the framework will provide “space for both new and existing license holders to ensure Pennsylvania's demand is met.” It will also include measures to "empower farmers and small-scale growers across the state to participate in the safe and regulated cultivation of cannabis.”

Street noted that the state has “a unique and singular opportunity to rectify decades of mass incarceration, unequal enforcement against marginalized communities, criminalization of personal choices, and the perpetuation of violence—all resulting from the failed war on drugs.”

“Legalizing cannabis for adult use will assist us in fully and equitably funding education, lowering property taxes, and addressing various community needs throughout Pennsylvania,” he added.

As a black cannabis advocate, the potential impact of this legislation on minority communities could be significant. The mention of social equity provisions is promising, potentially leading to expungement of previous cannabis convictions that disproportionately affect minority communities. Furthermore, prioritizing licenses for people most affected by the war on drugs could stimulate economic growth and offer new opportunities within these communities. It's essential, however, that these provisions are more than just lip service and are implemented effectively. The 'war on drugs' has had a devastating impact on minority communities, and legislation like this could start to address and rectify these injustices.

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